Saturday, July 28, 2012

A spot of tea?

Today, after a long, hot slog pulling weeds and pruning in the garden, I was so desperately over-heated that I marched down the stairs to the pool, and jumped in with all my clothes on. 

Refreshing, I thought, as I floated to the surface and watched dirt and tiny pieces of leaves drift from my overalls towards the skimmer...  But, the plunge didn't nearly take care of the dehydration I felt.

I squelched up to the house, wrapped a towel around myself when I reached the mud room, and dripped along the hall to the kitchen. 

The interior was a perfect display of utter chaos, with dirty dishes stacked beside the sink, while clean dishes languished in the dishwasher.  My eldest was in the process of concocting a batch of cookies, and a light dusting of flour and cocoa powder coated every surface.   As all the countertops were clearly in use, the younger two offspring were icking up the kitchen table with what can only be described as a modeling clay factory.

I glared at my children, then spotted a pitcher on the counter near the sink:  the iced tea must have been just made, as there was a beading of condensation forming on the plastic jug's exterior.

I grabbed a clean cup from the cupboard, and poured myself a large glass, while gazing out at the tidy garden outside my kitchen windows. 

Yes, the inside of the house may look like a midden, but at least the outside was back in some semblance of order. 

As I had these self-congratulatory thoughts, I took a huge swig, and swallowed twice before the taste hit me.

"JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH..." I gasped and gagged at the same time.  "WHO MADE UP THAT TEA???  It tastes like BOG WATER."

"NOT ME!!!"  screeched Wee Three, before I'd even finished emitting the first expletive.  (This has become her main defence-mechanism-of-choice these days, as it's just easier to deny everything  than to explain anything.)

"It wasn't ME," stated Child Number Two as she slorped another handful of liquid sludge onto her sculpture, in an attempt to make the situation even more sticky, "I don't even LIKE iced tea."

"Well, it certainly wasn't ME," stated my eldest, obviously assuming that she didn't need to add any more detail to the discussion.  She HAS, after all, attended courses at the Stratford Chef School, and her skills are far too developed for such an amateur catastrophe.

"It had to be SOMEBODY," I bellowed, as I made for the liquor cabinet, and began mixing myself a fortifying gin and tonic, "Why else would it be sitting there on the counter???!"

On the counter...  by the pile of dirty dishes...  that had accumulated during my sojourn in the garden...

My stomach turned again, as I investigated the contents of the pitcher.

Dirty dishwater, with a used j-cloth thrown in for "steeping".


NEW RULE, PEOPLE...  Dirty dishes left on the counter will result in a monetary fine of $5 per item.

And from now on, mummy drinks only alcoholic beverages.

Friday, July 27, 2012

What SHOULD have been said tonight.

The centre of the London Olympic Cauldron, 2012

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England...

King Richard II, 2.1
by William Shakespeare

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Fancy footwork.


If you are a female reading this blog, it is highly likely that the very sight of this word has struck a chord in your heart, and a thrill has erupted in your brain and run down your spine.

If you are my mother reading this, the immediate reaction is a certainty.

It is therefore considered to be somewhat unusual that the mention of fine footwear does not elicit a similar response from Yours Truly.  Heck, if the majority of females in the world display a specific addictive/hoarding behaviour, one would think it would almost certainly be genetic.

Well, I guess I was standing behind the door when God was passing out this one.

I'm actually quite grateful, in a way...  While I can't deny that I occasionally covet my mother's vast shoe collection (and curse the fact that her dainty feet are about two-and-a-half sizes smaller than my Hobbit-like appendages...  dammit), without a doubt, I have saved myself a heck of a lot of money.

(Which I spend on yarn.  But, that is another issue altogether.)

Summertime is one of my favourite times of year.  One of the main reasons why I love the warm weather so much is that I can dispense of shoes and socks entirely, and run barefoot through my house and garden.  Yes, the habit occasionally makes the floors messy, in spite of all the prickly sisal mats I have placed in front of the doors...  And yes, my feet require soaking, scrubbing and a good deal of moisturizing at the end of every day.

But to me, nothing beats the feel of bare-foot-freedom, and grass-between-the-toes.

Traction, baby...
When I was a stay-at-home mum, the only pre-requisite I had for footwear was TRACTION.  The shoes I wore had to stand up to chasing after kids, and enable me to CATCH the little boogers before they flew in front of a moving vehicle, out a window, or into the deep end of a swimming pool.  Indoors, I discovered the joy of hot-pink crocs.  Outdoors, I had sturdy leather slip-ons with seriously treaded rubber soles.

By order of the Doc..
I discovered the hard way that nothing dictates what you put on your feet more than sustaining an injury.  Years ago, a week before I was supposed to depart on a business trip to San Francisco, I slipped on some of baby food that my daughter had splattered on the floor during her lunch.  I torpedoed across the kitchen floor, slammed into the front of the stove, and broke two toes on my left foot.  Six hours later, the ER physician prescribed hefty painkillers and an enormous pair of Doc Martens.  Needless to say, they made a unique impression.  I may have been in a semi-drugged haze most of the time, but I made it through all four days, standing up.

Three years ago, less than ten days before Christmas, in an absolute frenzy to start my shopping, I slipped on the black ice on my driveway and dislocated my right elbow.  The pain of the injury was exquisite, but the agony of knowing that the ridiculous boots I was wearing were in part to blame for the accident was almost as unbearable.  My parents immediately swooped in to my rescue, and as soon as I could get up and around, mum magnanimously offered to purchase me The Ultimate Winter Boots.  She was prepared to spare no expense-- and so she bundled me up and took me on one of her famously generous shopping expeditions.
Helen of Tundra

I alarmed her more than slightly when I asked that she steer the car in the direction of the Stratford Co-op.  I had my eye on something SERIOUS-- the stuff The Professionals wear to deal with Old Man Winter.  By God, I was determined that Nature was never going to mess with ME again...  My mother patiently steered me towards a slightly more "lady-like" store, and we eventually compromised on an enormous pair of Sorels that have become so trusted and beloved, I refer to them by name.

Beloved Birkies
School-teaching also takes a toll on the tootsies, especially if you are (literally) dancing around the younger grades.  During my first year of teaching, in an effort to look as competent as possible to parents and administrators, I adopted a professional "uniform", which included (horror of horrors) a pair of high-heeled shoes, fitted with what I was assured were properly-fitting orthotic supports.   By the time June rolled around, I hurt so badly that I spent the summer months in Birkenstocks, in a desperate attempt to re-adjust the pronation of my feet.

Thankfully, I have come to the conclusion that I am too old for all this nonsense anymore.  It just doesn't matter a damn what my feet LOOK LIKE, so long as they FEEL GOOD.  Now, I'm not saying that I wear trainers with business suits, as did the yuppies of yore...  but when I need new shoes, my criteria pretty much run along the lines of a neutral colour, and a style that doesn't make me shriek when I stand up in them.  I now have about four pairs that I feel relatively good about:  one for running, two for work, and my beloved Birkenstock clogs.

I was therefore caught rather off-guard when my parents gave me a wonderful birthday gift several weeks ago.  They purchased us all tickets to the Opening Night of the Elora Festival, which is one of the most prestigious musical events in Canada.  The night was to be extra-special for all of us, and my father in particular:   Mendelssohn's Elijah was to be sung by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, where my father had proudly attended and graduated from years ago.  As soon as the tickets were purchased, he began rummaging around in his closet for appropriate attire, and emerged with a striped college tie, in distinctively dashing shades of blue.

I began to fret.  What on earth was I going to wear on this auspicious occasion?  The Opening at Elora was certainly a major event...  but it presented a rather fascinating dichotomy.  For, the concerts are held at several different venues in one of the most beautiful little towns in Rural Ontario.  The main venue is actually a converted barn.
The beautiful Gambrel Barn

What the hell does one wear to please oneself AND one's parents, when one is attending a concert by a world-renowned choir in a BARN, on one of the hottest and most humid nights on record? (Needless to say, no air conditioning.  The cows never requested it.)

Well, luckily, I had a dress.  It was a comfortable cotton jersey in a lovely shade of purple-- one of those awesome things that you can just throw on, and because it's cleverly styled, it sort of floats away from your "problem areas" and makes you look respectable.


Now, what the heck to put on my FEET?  Flip-flops were out.  So were the Birks, which were immediately vetoed by my teenage daughter.

So.  I reached waaaay back into the depths of my closet, and pulled out a pair of shoes that hadn't seen the light of day for many, many moons.  A pair of trotters that had been purchased for ten dollars at Winner's for a laugh one day, because I couldn't believe they fit, or the fact that I could actually walk in them.  They were velvet, sported three-inch heels and little bows...  and darned if they weren't the exact shade of purple as the dress.

Thankfully, my mother drove us to Elora and back, saving me from having to drive barefoot (there was no WAY I was going to try it in those spikes).  By the time we got there, my feet were hurting already.  Damn that Kate Middleton, I thought, SHE makes it look so EASY...  How the heck does she prance around all the time with a smile on her face?  Granted, her shoes cost more than ten bucks, but even SO...  How dare she make the rest of us feel like we can do it, too?!

We emerged from the car, and I tottered precariously across the parking lot and the gravel road in front of the barn, cursing inwardly with every mincing step.  How could I have been such an idiot?

And then, it started to happen.

"Nice SHOES," commented the woman who took my ticket at the gate.  I giggled feebly, and hobbled forward.  Every couple of steps, a stranger, all of them female, and all of them older than me, made a pleasant remark about my choice of footwear. 

Now, I should explain that this isn't the sort of thing that happens to me very often.  Yes, people comment occasionally, since I usually dress more formally than most other teachers, and certainly, when I've lost my mind and cut all my hair off without warning, as I did one day last spring...  But compliments from people I've never met-- heck, compliments on my appearance from people who are not my PARENTS, who HAVE to say nice things about me, for crying out loud-- are not what I have become accustomed to.  In fact, of late, I have been really wrestling hard to boost up my confidence and self-image.  ("Don't stop working to improve yourself!!" say all the self-help books...)

Yes, my feet hurt like the dickens, but that night, I walked a little taller, and a little more proudly. 

The music was absolutely divine, and sung only as a Cambridge Choir could perform it.  As the sun set through the open barn door and the music raised the roof and spun towards the heavens, tiny insects swirled and glittered like flying jewels in front of the stage lights.  It was pure magic.

My dad loosened his tie, sighing happily as we drifted towards the car when the show was over.

 "How are The Shoes?" he asked me, as he peered UP at me, for a change.

"The Shoes are pretty good," I replied.

I felt younger and lighter than I had in years, in spite of the pinched toes and cramps in my arches.

Yes, sometimes attempting to recapture one's youth is a pain...  but sometimes, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Because dammit, I'm sick of salad.

The Ultimate Chocolate Brownies

3/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 c melted butter, divided
1/2 c boiling water
2 c granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/3 c all purpose flour
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
1 c chocolate chips... plus more for "garnish"

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  (As George Carlin points out, pre-heating is illogical:  either your oven is heated, or it isn't.  Right?!)

Grease a 13 x 9 inch pan with butter, and dust it with flour or cocoa, to prevent the brownies from sticking.  (In my experience, they don't stick if you eat them fast enough, so skip this if you're really desperate.)

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cocoa and baking soda.  Blend in 1/3 c of the butter.  Add the boiling water, and stir until the mixture thickens.  Then, once it has cooled a little, stir in the sugar, the remaining 1/3 c of butter, and the two eggs.  Stir until very smooth.  Add the flour, vanilla and salt, blending everything in completely.  Add 1 c of chocolate chips (or whatever's left after you've eaten most of them), then pour the mixture into the baking pan.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the brownies pull away from the edge of the pan.

Let them cool completely before icing-- but be sure to taste a few, just to make sure they are good.

One Bowl Buttercream Icing

6 Tbsp softened butter
1/2 c cocoa powder
2 2/3 c icing sugar
1/3 c heavy cream
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
MORE chocolate chips

In a small bowl, cream the butter.  Blend in the cocoa and icing sugar alternately with the cream, until all the ingredients are combined.  Beat in the vanilla.

Spread this lovely stuff all over the top of the brownies you have left in the pan, and sprinkle generously with MORE chocolate chips.  Don't forget to lick the beaters and scrape the bowls.

What the hell.  I'll walk 20 or 30 extra kilometers tomorrow.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Missing inaction.

This morning, as I do every fine day, I set off for my morning constitutional.

It has been revealed to me, since turning forty several (ahem) years ago, that if one does not make a concerted effort to propel oneself forward in a rapid fashion on a regular basis, certain parts of the female anatomy react most alarmingly to the law of gravity.  Indeed, some parts threaten to fall off altogether.

(My apologies to those who have just eaten, for that visual.)

I'm fortunate enough to have a large, evil-looking black-and-yellow treadmill down in my basement, where my beloved stationary bicycle, (now deceased), used to stand.

I'm even MORE fortunate to live a stone's throw away from a beautiful walking trail, that I can roar around on foot for about three kilometers every day.

Recent studies have shown that walking or running on a treadmill is very good for you, physically.  The same study has shown that walking or running while surrounded by the beauty of nature is not only good for you physically, but mentally, as well. 

I've really needed to walk, these past few weeks.  During the first lap around the pond, I concentrate strictly on the sounds around me:  the birds, the cicadas, my own foot-fall, and my own breath.  I empty my head:  no worries allowed, no "inner noise".

The second round is when some of the "better thinking" gets done.  Amazingly, once I make the effort to push the general annoyances and angst that has consumed most of the night before away from the forefront of my mind, I can actually begin to see reason.  I can begin to fashion greater solutions to problems, and plot positive actions and re-actions, with which to fill my day.

This morning, for instance, I was fuming--  FUMING!!!  --about some silly bit of nonsense I had read on the internet.  The immediate leap into a frustrated attitude so early in the morning, before I had even had my COFFEE, for crying out loud, catapulted me into a state of feeling fit-to-be-tied about a bunch of other things I've been worried about in my own life.

Things, that by round two of the pond, I was luckily able to see in a far less alarming light.

Round three, and I actually finished with a smile on my face, an appreciation for the beauty and tranquility of my surroundings, and a plan of action-- or, as it were, IN-action.

This morning, dear readers, I deleted my Facebook account.  I felt a bit naughty as I pressed the "yes, I'm sure" button, after entering all my security information...  and then, a blessed relief.

This summer, I simply don't NEED to know what everyone else is doing, thinking, or whining about.  I couldn't care less about movie stars, "what's trending", or "who I might know".  I'm abundantly aware of who's kids are cute, and I wouldn't dream of calling someone "friend" who didn't take the trouble to phone me or write me a note to tell me if something earth-shattering had happened to them.  I sold up the Farmville years ago, and all those points that Pieces of Flare kept throwing at me never added up to anything, anyway.

Yes, I'm missing "inaction", although I posted and commented so seldom, that I doubt any of my twenty-five-or-so-called "friends" will miss me at all.  I think my last contribution to the Facebook community had something to do with discovering an effective way to remove the smell of cat vomit from one's entrance hall.  Hey, I thought it was important at the time, and you KNOW how I feel about sharing knowledge...

Well, the Facebook community will just have to get by on their own.

Now.  If anyone needs me, I'll be on my blackberry.

(Everyone knows those damn things don't work, anyway.)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Little Bug(ger)

It's been a lovely, quiet couple of days here, in spite of the fact that summertime is in Full Swing.

For the past several weeks, I've been teaching every morning, then returning to my own throng (usually with a couple of their friends thrown in for good measure), to desperately seek inexpensive activities with which to keep them all occupied and out of jail.

We've visited the library, where the summer reading program is up and running.   We've gone swimming, painted, made jewellery, entertained relatives, taught people how to knit...  Heck, we've even been to see the dreaded Katy Perry movie-- in 3D, no less. 

Party on.

But, BEST of all...  we've been trolling through the local farm country, investigating all the little makeshift roadside stands and tiny markets.  The news is good:  because of our endlessly rainy spring and hot, steamy summer, the crops are early in this part of the world.

It's CORN and BLUEBERRY time, again, people!

The girlies and I drove to beautiful Wilmot Farm in Newcastle, Ontario on Friday afternoon, and had a most glorious time in the fields.  We emerged with four gigantic buckets of doughnut-sized berries(okay...  I exaggerate slightly.  They're actually TIMBIT-sized.  And, for anyone who does not have the good fortune to know the joys of Canadian Timbits, well...  you have my deepest sympathy).  We're rapidly working our way through the fresh berries of the first bucket, and I've frozen the other three, so we'll have lovely muffins and waffles and pies all winter long.

The discovery of the first ears of peaches'n'cream corn came as a most delightful surprise yesterday.  With Child Number One visiting her grandparents in Stratford for a week, and Child Number Two spending a few days at a friend's cottage up North, it's been just Wee Three at home with me this weekend.  We've made the most of our "quiet" time together, and my littlest girl has had almost every one of her heart's desires fulfilled while her sisters have been away.  She deserves it, too, as she's been terrifically helpful to me around the house, pegging out laundry as it has emerged from the washer, cleaning bathrooms, and most significantly:  helping me to acclimatize the newest addition to our family...  My sister's cat, Minnie, has come to stay for a month, much to the chagrin of the felines-in-residence, Mighty Maude and Charlotte.

Last night when I asked what my youngest child would like best for her dinner, the request was for BUTTER TARTS.  And, not just any ol' store-bought butter tart, either: she wanted the ones freshly baked by Mrs. Forsythe, who runs our nearest farmer's market.

We hopped in the loser cruiser, pointed it North...  and within a few minutes, there was the sign, seemingly straight from Heaven, and a good two or three weeks earlier than we are accustomed to seeing it:

Let the Angels sing, and the trumpets sound! 

Later, as we sat on the patio, plates perched on our knees and butter running down our chins, I asked Wee Three how she was enjoying her time as the Only Child in the house.

She took a moment to consider this, before replying.

"Welllll," she said, then took another enormous chomp of corn, and chewed it thoughtfully.  "It's been OKAY, I guess..."

OKAY?!  It's a perfect summer evening, the kid has blueberries, butter tarts AND CORN, and it only rates as OKAY?!!

I managed to temper my reply, however, and prompted her for a little clarification.

"It's kinda boring, actually," she replied, gazing wistfully at me with her big brown eyes.

"There's nobody left here for me to BUG."

Yessir, being the little bugger in this house is a full-time occupation, indeed...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Off to Gramma and Grampa's...

We're heading to Stratford this weekend, and it will be our first trip without my beloved purple fuzzy dice that have long swung from the rear-view mirror of the Loser Cruiser...  They finally gave up the ghost, faded and bedraggled as they were-- a tacky, yet invaluably useful symbol that branded the minivan as MINE in the parking lots filled with identical colours, makes and models.

However, as a little "happy birthday to ME" yesterday, I concocted a new-and-improved embellishment:  meet Tony and Jude, two baaaaad boys who, as the patron saints of lost things and hopeless causes, will hopefully help to steer me in the right direction for a few more years at least.

Drive on!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Tattler

As a teacher, I can appreciate the fact that a child's tendency to "tell" on classmates displays evidence of achieving a developmental milestone:  not only does that student show an appreciation for social norms, but the student also has equal expectations for the behavior of other children.  The challenge I often face is supporting The Tattler to develop an understanding of the difference between a problem that requires teacher intervention, and one that can be solved by the peers themselves.

As a parent, I find it particularly frustrating when my own offspring display a difficulty in understanding the difference between circumstances that require the intervention of The Almighty Mother, and minor infractions that could be easily resolved by a smidgen of self-regulation.

It's summertime. 

All three girls are home with me, as I desperately attempt to de-tox from what has been one of the most frantic years of my existence.  During this time, my youngest child has apparently decided to take her pre-existing condition of tattle-tale-itis, and hone it into a form of Fine Art.

This?  Is the child whose most frequent tattle runs along the lines of:

"MUM-MEEEEEE...  (insert sister here) just called me a TATTLE-TALE!!!"

Somebody, tell me:  If I stick custom-fitted wax plugs in my ears, and my youngest child narks out her siblings, does it still count as tattling if I can't actually HEAR HER?

Yesterday, as I was slogging away in an overheated kitchen, scraping a layer of solidified crud off of the worktop, Wee Three manifested herself at my elbow:

Mother:  (wearily)  What's up, squirt?

Wee Three:  MUM-MEEEEEEEEE... 

Mother:  (immediately detecting the distinct whiff of Rat-Finkiness)  Yikes!  This doesn't sound good already...  Tell me, Wee one, do I sense a TATTLE coming on?

Wee Three:  (regretfully)  Wellllllll...  yes.

Suddenly, she brightened up, and hopped from one foot to another in what can only be described as evil anticipation:

Wee Three: (gleefully)   BUT...  It's a really GOOD one!

God save the foundation...

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